Why I Participated in SlutWalk D.C.August 17, 2011
I’ve never been called a slut, but last Saturday, I claimed the name when I participated in SlutWalk D.C.
SlutWalks started in Toronto in April in response to a police officer who said women wouldn’t be victimized if they didn’t dress like sluts. The first walk in Toronto touched a nerve, and people around the world are organizing and participating in satellite SlutWalks to say that sexual assault is about power, not our clothing choices. SlutWalkers also challenge the negative connotation of the word “slut.” No matter how people dress, they deserve respect.
I concur, and so on Saturday I marched from the White House to the Washington Monument with more than 1,000 SlutWalkers. The mood was upbeat and supportive. Some people wore next to nothing, while others were fully clothed. Many people held anti-rape and anti-victim-blaming signs. Tourists lined the sidewalks taking photos of us, many cheering and encouraging us as we walked.
After the walk ended, despite an initial downpour of rain, hundreds of people stayed to hear talks from 22 survivors, allies, and community activists. I was the fourth speaker. The audience supportively cheered and clapped throughout the talks.
My reason for participation was very personal. As I said in my talk, I wanted to honor the many rape survivors I know and love, including my grandmother.
In this photo, my grandmother is 3 years old. Her father was already sexually abusing her. At age 12, a lifeguard raped her. Then as a young teenager, she told her Mormon church leader about the abuse, and he sexually assaulted her instead of helping her. For decades after that, she was silenced by shame and the fear of blame. In fact, some people did blame her when she gathered the courage to share what happened. Its negative effect on her life is still apparent today.
Recently my grandmother wrote the book The Illness That Healed Me with the hopes of being able to help other survivors through the healing process. Because she writes about the abuse by her father, some of her siblings won’t speak to her. She, like all rape survivors, never “asked for it.” They should never be blamed or shamed.
I’m grateful I could participate in SlutWalk D.C. and add my voice to the growing choir of people who are sick and tired of victims being blamed. Instead of focusing on clothing choices, we all should focus on prevention programs and initiatives.
While some people question the effectiveness of SlutWalks, I believe the media coverage helps change societal attitudes. And at an individual level, I witnessed SlutWalk D.C. serve as a healing, empowering, and rejuvenating experience for survivors and friends and family of survivors. That’s powerful.
Some people have dubbed these events the future of feminism, though there are many people who take issue with the walks. This evening at 6 p.m. at our headquarters at 1111 Sixteenth St. NW, AAUW is hosting Re: Action — A Debate on SlutWalk to discuss both sides. It’s free and open to the public.